We know next summer’s draft is going to be a huge one for one key reason: it is absolutely loaded with talent in a way we haven’t seen since 2003 (LeBron, DWade, etc.). Whereas the past few drafts have been very light on potential stars, the combination of a phenomenal freshmen class and a batch of sophomores who surprisingly stayed for a second year is looking to be great in 2012. The NCAA has been underway for a few weeks and given us a look at these hopefuls, so it’s time to start making some predictions against the hype and mock drafts that already exist.
Kendall Marshall (PG, North Carolina)
Projected Draft Position: 15-25
Why He’ll Be Better: Just so we’re clear, we’re talking about the moderately athletic point guard who averages 5 ppg, barely has a shot, and rarely gets to the free throw line. OK, we’re on the same page. What he does offer is without question the best combination of smarts, intangibles, work ethic, game management, and passing in college basketball. His 10.0-to-2.8 assist-to-turnover rate crushes virtually every other player from a major conference. Marshall seems to always make the smartest pass available, to the right guy, in the right spot. That’s a rare skill that raises a team’s collective shooting ability in a way we see from very few PG’s in the league (Jason Kidd and Steve Nash being the most notable). Also, he’s smart and capable on the defensive end.
Most people got to know Marshall last year when he was forced to start halfway through his freshman season when junior Larry Drew Jr. became inefficient and shortly thereafter quit the team unexpectedly. The Tarheels responded beautifully with Marshall at the helm by finishing 17-3 with their only losses coming to Duke and Kentucky; with Drew starting, the Heels had been 12-5, which included the usual blend of out-of-conference cupcakes early in the season. Pretty much everyone on the team looked better once Marshall was the starter, which is not something an athletic dynamo “with potential” who doesn’t know what he’s doing (*cough, Marquis Teague) can do.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF, Kentucky)
Projected Draft Position: 8-12
Why He’ll Be Better: What he brings to the table from an energy and defensive standpoint is fantastic. So fantastic, I’d consider taking him as high as #2 if I was a GM next summer. When he goes to the hoop with the ball, he goes hard. When he sprints the floor in transition, he goes hard. When he’s manning up on defense, he goes hard (his defense is versatile and tenacious, often compared to Ron Artest’s). When he crashes the boards, he goes hard. Consequently, he ends up with a lot of strong finishes at the rim, a lot of free throws, and a lot of hustle plays that aid his team’s efforts to win (frequently has multiple steals, blocks, or offensive rebounds in a contest). He’s heady, aggressive, no-nonsense, and a hard worker. If he can do all that while putting up 12-15 ppg on smart shot selection, lottery teams would be wise to pick him well before the 8th spot next summer.
Marquis Teague (PG, Kentucky)
Projected Draft Position: 7-15
Why He’ll Be Worse: Teague is super fast, flashy, and has the NBA pedigree (brother Jeff has been in the league for two years). Unfortunately, he just doesn’t know anything about being a PG. He takes very poor shots and has a horrendous 4.1-to-2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio even though he’s surrounded by future NBA players to make easy passes to. He has a ho-hum attitude on the defensive end. Frankly, Teague has no business playing ball at the next level if we’re to believe what all the scouting reports and his current stats say about his inefficiencies in every aspect of the game. Just based on the eye test, it’s clear he’s being bailed out by the rest of the Kentucky talent. Against the two best team’s the Wildcats have faced, Kansas and North Carolina, Teague shot 7-for-20 (35%), 1-for-5 (20%) from deep, 4-for-10 (40%) from the free throw line, had 7 assists to 7 turnovers, and 0 steals. For the year, his 37% shooting from 3-point land will certainly fall as the season goes on – don’t believe me? Take a look at his 52% from the charity stripe.
Andre Drummond (C/PF, Connecticut)
Projected Draft Position: 1-3
Why He’ll Be Worse: Can we all agree that a potential #1 pick in one of the deepest drafts ever better be doing something special early in the season against the easy opponents? Well he does have some games with big blocks, and…yeah that’s about it. Drummond’s amazing combination of strength and athleticism hasn’t been able to break free of his general malaise. He’s way underwhelming as a scorer (including shooting 33% from the free throw line), doesn’t offer much as a rebounder (6.3 rpg in 22 minutes per), and he hasn’t had an assist since the first game of the year (despite supposedly being a good passer and racking up 11 turnovers so far). He does average 3.0 bpg, but he’s also regularly in foul trouble, especially for someone who doesn’t play a lot of minutes. If Drummond could ever take basketball seriously and start trying, he might actually be a productive player worth drafting – right now, he’s simply lost in a focus-less daze.
Harrison Barnes (SF, North Carolina)
Projected Draft Position: 1-3
Why He’ll Be Worse: Great catch-and-shoot scorer? Yes. Very good man-to-man defender? Yes. Clutch scorer? Yes. However, if you’re talking about a top-3 player in this draft, you better be getting a true game changer. He’s been having a lot of trouble creating his own shot in college, meaning he’s often reliant on his jumper to put up points, which means he’s often reliant on the PG and the team’s offense to get him in a position to score. Not only that, when he does have the ball, he’s done very little at UNC to show he’s a capable distributor. Barnes currently averages an abysmal 0.8 apg, down from 1.4 as a freshman, but his turnovers have gone up from 1.9 to 2.5 per game. He’s not a strong or consistent rebounder, either. From what we’ve seen so far, his best role as a pro will be as a shutdown defender who can knock down open jumpers (a role he should thrive in), but that’s not how you use a #1 draft pick.